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The ghouls and goblins will be out tomorrow night, and the candles in the jack-o'-lanterns will be burning brightly. The Halloween season has put me in mind to look at scary traditions and relate them to some common gardening ideas and misconceptions. So, here goes Halloween in the garden.A stake through its heart
STAFF PHOTO BY TRAVIS SPRADLING
An old recommendation was to drive nails into the trunk of a tree to provide iron. Another variation was to push nails into the soil around the base of a plant.Plants, however, absorb iron as simple ions, and the iron in nails is not available to them. Iron deficiencies in plants generally don't occur because there is not enough iron in the soil, but because the soil is too alkaline. That ties up the iron that is present, making it unavailable to the plant.Acidifying the soil is the solution to this problem, not pushing nails into the ground. And the idea that driving nails into the trunk of a tree will benefit it is not only wrong but destructive. Driving nails into the trunks of trees can lead to infection and decay.Beware the full moon
A nearly full, waxing gibbous moon rises over a Baton Rouge football stadium just before kickoff.
STAFF PHOTO BY HILARY SCHEINUK
Some gardeners still subscribe to the idea that the phase of the moon has a profound influence on the way plants grow, so you have to plant vegetable seeds and plants based on the phase of the moon to have success. Just pick up any farmer's almanac and you’ll see the tables and charts to help with this.This idea has been around for a long time, but research does not substantiate it. We all eat very well thanks to our abundant food supply, and I promise you that the farmers who grow all of that food do not plant by the phase of the moon or a sign of the zodiac. They plant according to weather conditions and the season, and you should, too.The moon has an undeniable effect on the tides and living organisms, but planting in the wrong phase of the moon will not prevent a vegetable plant from producing a crop. Focus more on planting in the proper season and providing the proper light, soil, water, fertilizer and pest management.Rays of the sun will burn it up
The sun rises over the Mississippi River (Photo by Maria Clark)
How many vampire movies end this way? A curtain is ripped from a window allowing the rays of the rising sun to pass over the vampire and burn it up.There is a common belief that watering plants and wetting their foliage when the sun is shining on them will burn them. I'm not sure how this one got started, and it certainly isn't true. Although it's best to water in the morning, you can water and wet the foliage of plants any time during the day without harming them.Garlic protects from evil
Chris Granger, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune archive
Garlic is a wonderful vegetable that most of us simply can't cook without, and it has proved health benefits. But gardeners often read that planting garlic in a garden will ward off evil insect pests. Garlic, however, has pests of its own, and planting it in your garden will not keep pests from attacking other plants.One use that may have some effectiveness is to make a solution of garlic and spray it onto plants for protection. The smell of the garlic on the plant may confuse an insect that is trying to find the plant it likes to eat by its unique smell or taste. You have to make applications repeatedly for continued protection.Man-eating plants lurk in the jungleWell, there are carnivorous plants, but don't get carried away. Insectivorous would be a better word. Most of these plants are after insects, not you. And except for the Venus flytrap, most of the traps are passive, waiting for insects to fall into a pool of digestive juice or get stuck on sticky hairs.Some larger carnivorous plants may catch very small animals, but mostly its bugs. And hey, any plant that eats bugs is OK with me. But don't worry about getting eaten by a plant the next time you're hacking your way through a rainforest.I want to drink your blood
A 2018 blood drive in St. Tammany Parish
Advocate Staff photo by SOPHIA GERMER
Along this same line, there aren't any plants that want to drink your blood. Blood does, however, provide an excellent fertilizer for plants.Blood meal, a popular organic fertilizer rich in nitrogen, is made from dried blood. It's a byproduct of the meat industry. Actually, it might be fun to lure a friend out into the garden one Halloween night and mention casually, as the moon passes behind a cloud, that you like to feed your plants blood.Mind transfer machinePicture the laboratory of a mad scientist. On two tables, side by side, lie two bodies connected by a tangle of wires. A switch is thrown, and amid a shower of sparks the characteristics of one are transferred to the other.There is actually a gardening misconception that has a parallel. The idea is that if you position a plant near the same kind of plant with flowers of a different color, the color of one can be changed by the proximity of the other.Planting plants with different colored flowers next to each other will not cause a flower color to change. Neither will planting a hot pepper next to a sweet pepper cause the sweet pepper to produce hot peppers.So, to wrap things up like a mummy, there is a lot of gardening information out there that ranges from questionable to just plain wrong. Most bad advice is fairly harmless, but some can actually damage the plants you are trying to help (like driving nails into a tree).Generally, if something sounds odd to you, check it out with a reputable horticulturist. Otherwise you might get more trick than treat.
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Dan Gill is a retired consumer horticulture specialist with the LSU AgCenter. He hosts the “Garden Show” on WWL-AM Saturdays at 9 a.m. Email gardening questions to [email protected]
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